Coyotes and tigers and bears…

It seemed perfectly safe. It was a brilliant October mid-morning and I needed a walk in the woods. My allergies had been haywire. I felt a walk would clear my head. I trundled through suburbia toward the woods and ridgeline above Highland Pond in Greenfield. The sun shimmered off yellowing maples and still-green oaks–a perfect fall day in New England. And then, it screamed at me. WARNING: Coyotes in Area. The sign, in bold red-orange, must’ve gone up over night.

Stunned, I halted in my tracks. Coyotes—in the AREA! My gosh… What to do?? Life had suddenly become scary. I collected myself. My racing heart slowed. I looked around quickly. Everything seemed, NORMAL. There were no people around, but then this was The Woods. But MAYBE that’s just what the coyotes want you to think, then…WHAM! Modern life is a full of danger signs, thrown up by who knows who. And choices.

I was upset, confused. I reviewed my options. I could turn back, find safety in the bosom of civilization. I could sit down where I was and look over into the scary woods—a warped version of reality TV. I could call the police and hope for an escort through the treacherous area. Or, if I waited, someone might come along and we could brave the wild canine gauntlet together. At the very least I’d make sure they were warned.

And then, a certain hero-scenario came to me. It was a simple dream: that I would someday collect enough coyote-defense skills, weaponry, and wild dog security equipment to start the Franklin Coyote Escort Service. I’d bring people for tours through the area—in hum-vees with stereos and side-slits for coyote sniping. Make this place a haven for civilization, like Iraq. But no, it was a crazy notion—few people ever attain that level wilderness courage and business savvy.

I stood before that sign, my life’s journey teetering in the balance. My impulse was to sprint back to the civil-safety of traffic, cell phones and shopping. But something stopped me. I’ll never know what. Suddenly I’m walking past the warning sign like some Stepford sacrifice, into the very heart of Greenfield coyote country. Each step brings me further from coffee and buy-one, get-one free–further toward the gaping maw of the woods and blood-thirsty hounds. There is no other human in sight. I’m alone—an Incan offering, thousands of miles and centuries off the mark.

In my auto-pilot state everything SEEMS normal. Squirrels chatter, chipmunks squeak, migrating robins scuff for worms in the leaves. I begin climbing upward, unaware of how many wild eyes may be devouring me from close-in. I reach Sachem’s Head and the old wood platform that once served as a dance floor for mountain visitors, before these howling woods became lousy with wild dogs. Oh for those peaceful days once more!

Me, I’m a babe in the woods—a shadow propelled by forces unknown. In my madness I sit down IN THE MIDDLE OF COYOTE COUNTRY, and read the newspaper—with that craven hoard likely so near I could’ve heard them breathing. Blithely I scan the horizon south to the beautiful ancestral bottomlands of the Pocumtuck, now “old” Deerfield, tracing the arc where that river leaves the Berkshires and pushes to its meeting with the Connecticut. In my altered state it all seems beautiful.

And then this: bizarrely, I lay down in the open and close my eyes for a nap—focused only on sinuses and the aches I’m nursing from the five games of volleyball I engaged in two nights before. I play exactly three times a decade–to stay ready for those instances where a man’s preparedness might be tested in some life-or-death Jack London setting as this one. Instead, insane, I doze for a full ten minutes, Pocumtuck princesses dancing in my head. That I do not awaken to a flash of canines at my throat remains a miracle.

A raven calls in the distance, another shadowy creature bent on destruction. Two crows sail by on the October wind—feathers glinting mockery at the fall sun. This is a set-up, I’m sure: the coyotes will rake my throat; crows will peck my eyes; the ravens will gorge on my liver. Dazed, I rise up–some final ounce of courage sustaining me, and finish my walk. Yet to this day I remain under the coyotes’ spell. It grips me as I sit here, thinking: WARNING–you have more to fear for yourself, your pet, or the suburban deer herd from the neighbor’s dog or the Rottweiller down the street, than you do from coyotes! The records bear this out. So, you see, I’m hopeless. I know that only my blood, at the full of the moon, will satisfy what the coyotes want of me. I am ready.